An evening trip to London by train illustrates how the “customers” are let down by those who provide their “services”. It affects life more than New Labour corruption.
The extent to which we are serfs to the so-called service providers was illustrated four times before the train pulled out of Oxford station.
First you have to get to the station. Every time I queue down Hythe Bridge Street, I curse the valuable time taken from me by the thickest of all thick public servants, the highways officers of Oxfordshire County Council. What inversion of society’s priorities means that flotsam like that can waste hours out of the lives of so many real people, people with jobs and lives that matter?
The patent stupidity lay in increasing the number of entrances, exits and cross-overs in Frideswide Square. Making both Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street two-way streets where they used each to go one way – one in and one out of the square – was so obviously certain to hold up the traffic that one has to assume that this was the intended effect.
Are the highways officers so thick that they meant to screw up the traffic flow? Or are they so thick that they could not – and still cannot – see that that is what would and does happen? We queued down fume-filled streets and watched our train depart as we waited at one of the many sets of lights.
And so to the car-park. I had heard that a new system was in place which penalised those who did not have internet access and a mobile phone, and I took the precaution of signing up to RingGo in advance. It turns out to be the perfect partner to First Great Western, the least customer-orientated customer service since NTL.
I found a quotation from FGW’s Commercial Director: “RingGo is already proving to be a great time saver for our customers as they can now make the call while walking from car to platform.” Sounds as seductive as FGW’s own advertising, doesn’t it, and proves to be no less dishonest. The reality, as we found when we finally got our rail tickets and squeezed onto a noisy, crowded platform, is that you can’t ring RingGo until you know the code number for the day, and you can’t see that until you are on the platform.
There, with trains squealing beside you and announcements overhead, you have to ring RingGo and answer a load of damnfool questions – which you can’t hear because of the noise. For this “service” you are not only charged a fiver for an evening in the car park, but a 20p “convenience fee” and the cost of the call. All in all, a classic example of a customer “convenience” which suits only the provider.
But first we had to get onto the platform. The queue for the ticket office stretched back to the door – the second time that week I had found it so – and the ticket machines would not accept credit cards. As I have said, we had already missed one train. By pooling all our cash, we managed to buy tickets with notes.
It is hard to tell if the management of First Great Western are crooks, shysters, plain incompetent, or a mixture of all these qualities. They certainly have no concept of customer service and rely on their monopoly position to bleed the traveling public.
Since I experienced this queue twice in that same week, and at different times in the week, I assume it was the same every day. Is it stupidity or plain contempt for the paying customers that has FGW begin their journeys in this way? I suspect the latter – there can’t be enough really stupid people in Oxford to staff both the railway station and Oxfordshire County Council Highways Department.
And so on to the train – on which I had to stand to Reading and then again, on a different train, to Paddington.
The news was about to break that senior people in Gordon Brown’s Labour party had been accepting payments which, let us say politely, were irregular – no, let’s not be polite since Brown has admitted it, which were illegal. The knowledge that our rulers are corrupt as well as incompetent comes as no surprise of course – that is very much part of the Blair-Brown legacy. I can accept that. I am resigned to it. I expected no better.
The breakdown of the mechanisms of daily life – in this case of getting from A to B, but it now applies equally to every part of life which the state touches on – is far worse than the corruption of Labour politicians and has far more impact on people. Useless council officers, contemptuous railway companies and self-interested fleecers like RingGo have thrived under New Labour. When Labour falls, it will be because of them, not just because Labour’s politicians are corrupt,